Long Beach puts hotel-worker ‘panic button’ initiative on ballot; business leaders call it flawed

The Best Western Golden Sails Hotel in Long Beach is seen on Sept. 15, 2016. The Long Beach City Council placed a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot requiring hotels in the city to give workers "panic buttons" to prevent sexual assaults.
(Glenn Koenig/ Los Angeles Times)

Long Beach residents can expect a divisive campaign during the next three months over a measure designed to protect hotel workers from sexual assaults and unfair workloads.

A unanimous Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to place a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot requiring hotels with 50 or more rooms to provide workers with “panic buttons” to prevent sexual assaults. The initiative also would impose limits on the daily workload on housekeepers.

The council called for an economic impact study on the effects of the proposed changes.

Unions that represent hotel workers in Long Beach collected enough valid signatures — 27,462 — to require the City Council to put the measure on the ballot for the next citywide election or adopt the ordinance to take effect immediately.


During a contentious hearing, the council heard from dozens of supporters and opponents of the measure, which was nearly identical to a measure that the council rejected last year in a 5-4-vote. The previous proposal was named after a hotel worker who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and slipped into a coma after working a 14-hour shift at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel.

The city’s business leaders say the measure would damage Long Beach’s tourism industry, which last year generated $300 million in economic benefits and $26.4 million in hotel room taxes, according to Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau data.

John Howard, chairman of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, told the council that the measure was “unnecessary and arbitrary” and could lead to higher room rates.

“The economic impact of this initiative could be immense and widespread,” he said.

In addition to the panic buttons, the measure calls on limits to the daily workload for housekeepers. For example, it says a housekeeper cannot be required to clean rooms with a total floor space of more than 4,000 square feet in an eight-hour shift, unless the worker is paid twice his or her regular hourly salary for the extra work.

Supporters of the measure told the council Tuesday that the initiative would protect housekeepers who fear being attacked and assaulted by guests.

“Every day, we work with the fear of what may happen to us,” said a woman who identified herself only as Lorena, a housekeeper at a Long Beach hotel.


Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce predicted the upcoming campaign will be emotional, considering that supporters likely will portray the measure as a way to protect female hotel workers from assaults and opponents will predict it will hurt one of the city’s biggest industries.

But Pearce said she doesn’t expect the measure will hurt tourism because demand in the city is so strong that Long Beach could build and fill 1,500 more hotel rooms. “That says a lot,” she said.

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